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The problem with KPI’s and learning cultures

I’ve spent most of my career being tasked with “building a learning culture” or “getting more of our people to be learners” – these have been continual threads throughout my whole career.

The funny thing is, there is no such thing as learners 😱, they’re only humans aka us. You don’t choose whether to be a “learner” or not. Much like you don’t choose to be a human.

Learning is a part of our programming. It’s how we know how to do all the stuff we do now. From the time we first started to walk to times where we’ve experienced pain, and figured out not to do that action again.

The fact is that a learning culture has always existed. Yet, the problem is that can’t be measured in a KPI, nor do many people recognise how they learn everyday through very little doing of their own.

So, much more of my work has been focused on helping people recognise that they learn everyday from many experiences. 

This has mostly happened because companies like to measure stuff so they can say ‘Yes we are doing this well or failing’. Even though cultures of learning exist within our communities, very few people recognise their daily interactions as learning moments, so hence they never answer employee surveys with a “Yes, I feel like I’m learning here”.

The problem stems not from the existence of a learning culture because it’s here and always has been. 

But rather, it comes from the understanding of those moments as learning and thus the person is actually learning something at company x because they’re receiving the info from people at this workplace. Hence, continuing to scale this culture of learning across the community.

This is the challenge for most workplace learning teams. The focus on building learning cultures is wrong. It is in the recognition of said learning and growth opportunities that people need help with.

Of course, all of this complexity around learning cultures and measurement comes from the requirement for companies to report on what they’re doing for their employees. 

Taking someone’s word from a biological point of view (like me) that the culture exists, does not satisfy C-suite teams when it comes to analysing employee engagement. Hence we have to play the game of the popular box ticking exercises with annual surveys.

To prove the value of a workplace learning function and to continue showcasing it’s prolonged need in the business. We must play the game and move those markers or what some may call vanity metrics.

By doing this, those yearly employee surveys where KPI’s are measured get a lot more love because people understand that yes, they have been learning at company x and thus this affirms the desired culture of learning which everyone seeks.

So, if you find yourself smashing your head off the wall, trying to decipher how one builds a culture of learning – stop. Instead, help your people recognise that learning is an everyday behaviour and one which they’re probably doing more of then they recognise.

I’m sure a lot of my fellow peers experience this too, and I’d love to know how you tackle it? ⬇️


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